By: Sam Graham
The opportunity to hear Eric Clapton stretch out in an unusual (for him) setting and in the company of musicians the likes of which he rarely plays with is the principal attraction of Legends – Live at Montreux, recorded in 1997 during the Swiss city’s annual jazz festival. Clapton is joined by some superb musicians here (pianist Joe Sample, saxophonist David Sanborn, bassist Marcus Miller, and drummer Steve Gadd); but he is clearly the guy the crowd came to see, and as always, he delivers a passel of passionate, stinging solos. But although some of the repertoire has clearly been tailored for him (there are several straight blues numbers, along with the inevitable “Layla”), he’s a bit out of his element. Not that this is by any means a jazz concert; notwithstanding the jazz chops of the other players, the bulk of the nearly two-hour set consists of funky, R&B-based grooves, requiring Clapton to play some intricate rhythm figures and ensemble lines, all of which he does well (he’s especially effective on “Put It Where You Want It,” a Sample tune from his days with the Crusaders).
But where a guitarist like, say, Kenny Burrell could imbue this kind of material with interesting chord substitutions and jazz scales, Clapton sticks with the straight-ahead rock style that made him famous, and sometimes it simply doesn’t fit. That won’t make much difference to folks who just want to hear the man play. The more nettlesome issue is the fact that despite a couple of certified classics (Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood” and Jelly Roll Morton’s “Shreveport Stomp,” neither of which includes the guitarist), overall this music consists of too many riffs and not enough melodies, too many repetitive jams and not enough tunes. In short, Legends – Live at Montreux’s biggest problem is its tendency to be boring.